Change is Good

Look at things differently & grow your practice

By Les Sweeney and Kristin Coverly
[Business Side]

Stuck in a rut? Not feeling fulfilled? Expected more from your practice? Don’t fire yourself—fire yourself up! In this issue, Kristin and Les tackle eight topics to inspire change. Mix it up, look at things a bit differently, and perhaps you’ll find that a little change can do you good (thanks, Sheryl Crow).

Les Sweeney: Embrace diversity: If you took a picture of every client you have, would it look like one big family? Many therapists have practices that are comprised of similar types of individuals—is there too much sameness in your own clientele? Do you accidentally forget which PTA mom you’re working on? Maybe it’s time for you to conduct a diversity audit of your practice. Think about some of the ways people are different—age, gender, hair color, skin color, ethnic background, occupation, political views, physical ability, sexual orientation, religious belief—just to name a few. How diverse is your client base? Does your client list reflect your geographic location?
Why does this matter? Should your waiting room look like the United Nations? Well, that depends. Are you seeing enough clients currently? If the answer is no, you’ve probably been asking yourself, “Where can I find new clients?” Thinking beyond your own circle might be a good place to start. Diversifying your client base may expand your perspective—and increase your income.

Kristin Coverly: Your marketing plan: A lot of therapists I know would absolutely love it if marketing was a once-and-done proposition. Effective marketing, though, is like a living thing—and just like a plant, a puppy, a baby, or you, it needs ongoing care and attention to flourish.
Whether you’re trying to build or maintain your practice, refresh your marketing plan often to attract new clients and keep the ones you have. Evaluate your marketing using the “invitation criteria”: who, what, where, and when.
Who do you direct your marketing efforts toward? Hone in and focus your efforts on the groups of clients you want to work with (migraine sufferers, pregnant woman, people who live within five miles of your office). Like Les said, if you’ve been working with the same types of clients for a long time, consider expanding your efforts to a new group.
What types of things do you do to market your practice? Ideally, you’ll have a blend of in-person marketing (events, networking, speaking to groups) and online marketing (website, Facebook). Evaluate your current strategy to determine what you need to change or add to create a successful mix.
Where do you go to meet potential new clients? Get out in the community and let people know who you are and what you have to offer. Does this take time and effort to plan? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes! Add at least one new in-person marketing activity in the next three months.
When do you take time to market your practice? Schedule time on your calendar each week to strategize and implement your marketing ideas. Research upcoming events in your community and do the groundwork to provide massage at an event, update your social media sites and website, and so on. There’s plenty to do; schedule the time to put your ideas into action.

LS: Your practice management: When I see a person with a large dog on a leash, one of my favorite dumb things to say (I say so many dumb things, I have some favorites) is, “Who’s walking whom?” The person usually chuckles, but I always find it funny. Well, if you were walking by with your practice on a leash, I might ask, “Who’s managing whom?”
Managing your practice is important; it’s the difference between “just doing bodywork” and being a professional. Managing your practice includes marketing, finance, taking care of your facility, and keeping accurate and confidential notes, among other activities. One way to do this effectively is to engage a service—typically a software program. Based on our experience with ABMP members, only a relatively small percentage of practitioners use any form of practice management software. Do you keep track of clients in a notebook, or in a program? Can I check your openings online? If you haven’t considered engaging with practice management software, perhaps it’s time for you to look at it. Or if you’ve thought about it before but haven’t made the commitment, maybe you should revisit the decision.
The good news is there never has been a better time to shop for these resources. Lots of providers are out there: MassageBook, Full Slate, Bodywork Buddy, MindBody Online, and Genbook, to name a few.  

KC: Your website: We all know how important it is to have a website, as more and more clients are using online searches to find therapists. If you don’t have a website for your practice yet, that’s your first order of business. (Remember: ABMP members get a free website and website builder with their membership.) If you have a website, congratulations—good job, you! If you think that means you’re done, think again.
Nothing says “I’m not really paying attention to my practice” like having a special on your home page that expired three months ago, or text that reads “Start your New Year right” in July. If you have time- or date-sensitive material, make sure you keep it up-to-date.
Create new reasons for people to visit your site and share it with their friends and followers (a.k.a. potential clients) by adding new photos, articles, links, newsletters, and videos. Consider highlighting something new each month—a benefit, a technique, a special, etc. When you have new content on your website, it becomes an integral part of your overall marketing strategy. Reference it on your social media sites and in emails to increase website visits and keep your practice fresh in clients’ minds.

LS: Your goals and business plan: OK, let’s take an even bigger step back. Where are you going with your career? How do you plan to get there? Most of you spent some time in massage school developing a career path. Do you still have that assignment? Find it and read it. How’s it working out for you? Does it still make sense, or has the reality of the “real world” changed your perspective? You should have a specific, measurable plan each year, comprised of expected/planned practice setting, frequency of practice (how many hours a week?), income goals, and quality goals. Do you have that? Are you willing to document and invest the time to set out a plan for greater success in your chosen career?
One thing I’ve asked students for the past 15+ years when visiting massage programs: “If you love doing massage, why not figure out a plan to allow you to do it for a living?”

KC: Your space: Another area that’s ripe for change from time to time is your treatment space. A lot of us are still riding the wave of inspiration from the last issue of Massage & Bodywork (“The Design Issue,” September/October 2014). There are beautiful things called table skirts that we can buy online right this second? Yes! Let that momentum carry you forward to make some minor (or major) tweaks to your space that will refresh and enhance the experience for you and your clients.
Evaluate your current space in these two areas:
Performance: Are there things you or your clients need in your space that would make the session work better? Is there something you could offer in your space that would set you apart from other therapists in your area? It could be something big like an electric table or soundproofing, or smaller items like dimmable lighting, foot bath, new face cradle, table warmer, different size bolster, client chair, etc.
Style: What things can you change about the look of your space to just flat-out make you happier every time you walk in the door? A new rug, artwork, plant, or paint color can refresh a room quickly and inexpensively.
Identify two things you want to change or add over the next two months. Get your clients involved by asking for their ideas and feedback—it’s their space, too!

LS: Your modalities and techniques: Is your technique boring? Is your massage session the same over and over and over? Throughout the past two years, I have become a voracious consumer of massage; I have always received massage, but between running, ice hockey, and the aging process, I have become even more dependent on it. I visit several different therapists (all outstanding ABMP members), and each has a different style. That suits me, because I generate variety in my massage by seeing different therapists. But how do you make that happen for your clients (who you may not wish to share with others)?
One way to improve variety in your sessions is to learn a new modality. My suggestion: try before you buy. Go get some bodywork yourself. What speaks to you? Support your fellow bodyworkers and get a better understanding of what different modalities do and how you might incorporate them into your repertoire.

KC: Your self-care: It doesn’t matter what you do to change any other aspect of your practice if you’re not able to work because of illness or injury. And, let’s face it: life is a whole lot more fun when we feel good. There’s no magic formula for what good self-care is. It’s personal. That’s what’s so wonderful about it (or challenging, depending on the day). I encourage you to spend a little time creating your own incredibly personal and incredibly wonderful self-care plan.
First, figure out what works best for you in the self-care realm: what makes you happy and what makes your body happy? Do those things, but also embrace the spirit of change and try something new this month. Create a fun combination of things you know you love doing and things that might just be your next favorite thing.
Then, smile happily to yourself in anticipation as you place yoga classes, meditation time, and hikes (or whatever makes you smile) on your calendar and plan your healthy, energy-inducing meals for the week. Your practice will thank you.

Les Sweeney is ABMP’s president and resident blogger. Contact him at and read his blog on Kristin Coverly,, is the manager of professional development at ABMP and teaches workshops for therapists and instructors across the country. Both are massage therapists with business degrees who care about you and your practice. Want more? Check out their ABMP BizFit video tips on